VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI and the 22 new cardinals he created yesterday concelebrated Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pope used Bernini’s sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter to illustrate his homily since the Mass marked the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a liturgical solemnity that highlights Jesus giving Peter the authority to lead the church in love. The statue is topped by a window with a stained-glass dove representing the Holy Spirit.

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VATICAN CITY - Practically everyone knows two things about cardinals -- that they wear red hats and elect the Pope. But what other purpose do these men serve in the Catholic Church?

On the eve of the Feb. 18 consistory where Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to expand the College of Cardinals by 22 new members, the three North Americans among them shared some thoughts on the meaning of their new role.

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VATICAN CITY - Secularism has had an easy time spreading through many traditionally Christian cultures because so many Christians do not know their faith and do not grasp the truth it teaches, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York told the College of Cardinals.

While the New York prelate did not downplay the challenges the church faces in reviving the faith of its members and bringing the Gospel to those who have never heard it, he delivered his assessment Feb. 17 with his characteristic smile and broad gestures, telling Pope Benedict XVI and the cardinals that evangelization requires joy and love.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI called on governments and communities to help large families, saying children represent hope and the well-being of every nation.

"There is no future without children," he said at the end of his general audience Feb. 15 in a greeting to members of an Italian association of large families.

"In today's social context, a family made up of many children constitutes a witness of faith, courage and optimism," he said.

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VATICAN CITY - As a sectarian conflict in Syria intensified, Pope Benedict XVI called on all Syrians to begin a process of dialogue and reminded the government of its duty to recognize its citizens' legitimate demands.

In Beirut, the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church warned against toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for dialogue to solve the crisis in the country.

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VATICAN CITY - Love of God nurtures love of neighbor, especially in people with vocations to the priesthood or religious life, said Pope Benedict XVI in his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

The papal message for the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be observed April 29, was released Feb. 13 at the Vatican.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to address the problems of poverty and malnutrition in Africa's Sahel region.

"The Sahel was seriously threatened again in recent months by a notable decrease in food resources and by famine caused by a lack of rain and the resulting increase in desertification," the pope told members of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel.

He said that for residents of the Sahel, "living conditions are deteriorating."

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VATICAN CITY - In his Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI called on the faithful to be concerned for one another and "not to remain isolated and indifferent" to the fate others.

Materialism and a sense of self-sufficiency are obstacles to a Christian life of charity, the Pope said.

Instead of looking first to God and then to the well-being of others, people often have an attitude of "indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for 'privacy.'"

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VATICAN CITY - Strengthening one's relationship with God must be the highest priority and most defining quality of religious life, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Celebrating vespers with members of religious orders Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the World Day for Consecrated Life, the Pope said the day was a way of bringing greater attention to the witness of faith of religious men and women worldwide.

In his homily during the evening service in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict said the day was also an important occasion for religious to "renew your intentions and rekindle the feelings that inspire the giving of yourselves to God."

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and bishops and Catholics from the region when he visits Mexico and Cuba in late March.

He will also greet bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba.

It will be his third visit to the Americas after the United States in 2008 and Brazil in 2007.

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VATICAN CITY - "Mamma mia," Pope Benedict XVI said as a dove flew over his head and back into his apartment Jan. 29 after he and two Italian school children released the bird as a symbol of peace.

The Pope and representatives of the Italian Catholic Action children's section release doves during the Sunday Angelus address in late January each year. And, almost every year, at least one of the birds flies back into the papal apartment.

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VATICAN CITY - Christianity and even religious belief are in grave danger across the globe, risking oblivion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel," he said.

The world faces "a profound crisis of faith, and a loss of a sense of religion constitutes the biggest challenge for the church today," he said.

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VATICAN CITY - Evangelization must never be a marginal concern for the church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

From bishops to religious and the lay community, "All elements of the great mosaic of the church must feel themselves strongly called on by the Lord's mandate to preach the Gospel, so that Christ may be proclaimed everywhere," the Pope said in his message for World Mission Sunday.

The annual observance will be marked Oct. 21 at the Vatican and in most countries.

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VATICAN CITY - Consecrated life entails giving oneself completely to God and living for others, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Speaking at his weekly general audience Jan. 25, the Pope continued his catechesis on Christian prayer, looking at the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.

The Pope said Jesus prayed for God's intercession for his disciples, who, like himself, "do not belong to the world."

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VATICAN CITY - Amid the deluge of information and nonstop chatter in today's media, the church needs to help people find safe havens of silence, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Far from being the enemy of calm and quiet, social media and the Internet can lead people to virtual sanctuaries that offer silent reflection, thoughtful dialogue and true meaning in life, he said.

"Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God," he said in his message for the 2012 celebration of World Communications Day.

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